New special school opens in south Dublin: ‘It’s very emotional. We never thought it would happen’

South Dublin is traditionally underserved by special education. It may be the first of several to be established on the grounds of prestigious Spiritan-run schools

Miriam Kenny never thought her son Jonathan (11) would get a chance to go to school in his own neighbourhood.

They live in the affluent suburb of Templeogue in South Dublin. Yet, for all its advantages, the area has suffered from acute shortages of special education places.

Many children with complex conditions have been rejected by their local schools and forced to travel outside their communities and across the city to access an education that meets their needs.

This week, however, Miriam and Jonathan were able to walk to school at the newly-opened Libermann Spiritan School, a special school established on the grounds of the Spiritan-run Templeogue College.


The school has enrolled 24 pupils this week; it will grow to 30 next month. Subject to expansion plans, it could provide education for more than 150 students with special needs.

“We’re delighted,” says Kenny, whose son is autistic and needs a special school place. “It’s a very emotional and exciting day. I cried a lot. We never thought it would happen. Our son will be able to walk to school and be part of his local community. It’s something I hope many other children who need the extra support of a special school in the area will benefit from.”

The classrooms – based in a community house formerly occupied by Spiritan priests – are kitted out to meet pupils’ sensory needs.

They include a state-of-the-art sensory room, life-skill rooms such as a bedroom, sittingroom and kitchen, and a garden with trampolines and climbing frames.

School principal Vivienne Wynne says the staff of five teachers and 24 special needs assistants (SNAs) have been preparing for the pupils since the start of the year, while academic Dr Paula Kennedy Flynn and Tom Sheridan of the Spiritan Education Trust played a key role in getting the plans off the ground.

“Our motto here is believe, belong and become,” says Wynne. “Every child here has an individual programme. We meet each child where they are and we’ll help them all to fulfil their potential.

“That could be, for some, a social outing or a trip to McDonald’s, which might not be possible right now due to sensory problems,” she says. “We’ll also run the Junior Cycle programme at different levels.”

The school at Templeogue College may be just the start. Under an agreement with the Spiritans – founders of Blackrock College, St Michael’s College on Merrion Road, St Mary’s College in Rathmines and Rockwell College, Co Tipperary – special classes or schools may also be established on these campuses.

It is a huge change for some of the most prestigious, fee-charging schools in the country. Many are bastions of privilege that for generations have taken in sons of Catholic middle-class families and moulded them into the leaders of tomorrow. On the face of it, at least, academic outcomes mattered more than inclusive admission policies.

Under the agreement, however, special classes or schools will be opened on their grounds as long as qualifying students are enrolled without having to pay fees.

Dr Nicholas Cuddihy, executive officer with the Spiritan Education Trust, says the Liberman Spiritan School project is the “cornerstone of their strategic direction and mission for the future”.

“The opening of this Libermann Spiritan School in Templeogue represents a key milestone as we continue to engage with the Department of Education and National Council for Special Education to maximise opportunities that may exist for the provision of education to children with special needs in all our schools.”

The Spiritans, meanwhile, have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons over recent months. Revelations of child sexual abuse at Blackrock College prompted by a radio documentary late last year promoted hundreds of men to make historical abuse allegations against dozens of priests from Spiritan-run schools. Is the congregation simply trying to change the narrative?

Dr Cuddihy says its plans have been in the works for about three years and form part of the congregation’s wider desire to be “truly inclusive” and meet the needs of all children.

Kenny, a long-standing campaigner for access to special education and chair of Involve Autism D6/D6W, hopes it is a change that will benefit future generations.

“We’ve been campaigning since 2018 for local autistic children to be able to access appropriate educational placements in their local area, so this is incredible for them,” she says.

“This new school is an opportunity to be best-in-class in how we educate and support our autistic children who require a specialist educational setting. It’s clear that a phenomenal amount of thought and preparation has gone into the school. All staff have received lots of training prior to the school’s opening and the building is absolutely fantastic.”

For children to flourish in thee new school, she says they will require “full wrap-around supports” to meet all their needs.

“It is really important that we continue to raise our expectations in relation to the education of our autistic children and provide them with all the supports required in order for them to reach their full potential. This fantastic new school is definitely a step in the right direction,” she says.